On Friday morning, I thought I’d said all I needed to say about last week’s comments arising from the failure of the Titans to tackle Patrick Mahomes on his 27-yard, gamebreaking touchdown run and projecting how the 49ers may handle a similar situation with a Super Bowl championship on the line. On Friday afternoon, three former NFL players — in a TV segment that seemed to be designed to get them to say that my comments were inappropriate — actually agreed with what I said. And then some.
On FS1’s Speak for Yourself, co-host Marcellus Wiley and analysts LaVar Arrington and Rich Ohrnberger reacted to a limited snippet of my original remarks, which omitted the clear and obvious “I’m not suggesting that they try to knock him out of the game” caveat. Even without the caveat being included in the clip, the former players had no problem with the remarks.
“I wholeheartedly agree with him and love what he’s saying,” said Wiley, a defensive end who spent 10 years in the league. “He’s highlighting the errors of those defenders. And in real time, I was saying the same thing. Because they have player safety and protecting the quarterback in their head, they’re not actually going out there and defending up to their capabilities. So, what does that suggest to the next defense? Maybe you’re going to have to go out there and overcorrect. Maybe you’re gonna go out there, maybe you have to toe that line. And that could be perceived as reckless, so that’s my only issue with it. He’s stating the obvious, so why do you really need to state it if you understand what the defense’s intentions are in the first place?”
Arrington, a three-time Pro Bowler and the second overall pick in the 2000 draft, had an even stronger viewpoint.
“I take issue with the backlash,” Arrington said. “I take issue with the interpretation of it. In terms of why should it be stated or the safety of our game and different things. He didn’t say to go out there and hurt Patrick Mahomes. There’s a difference between saying going out there and taking a chance where there could be a risk of you getting a penalty infraction versus going out there and hurting him. If Mike Florio said, ‘This is what San Francisco needs to do. When Mahomes takes off, you need to jump on him, you need to slam his head down, you need to try to hit his legs, you need to do something to debilitate him so that it can impact the game.’ That isn’t what he said.
“There is a thing called a ‘woo lick,’ a tone setter. We all know about that. Linemen know about it. I got the worst ‘woo lick’ ever from Larry Allen. . . . That is why football is so special. That’s why it’s America’s sport. Because you test your mettle, you test your preparation and your abilities, and I think the softer this game gets, when we have to talk about what Florio says and try to decipher what that is, I think we’re going down a bad road.”
Added Ohrnberger, who played for the Patriots, Cardinals, and Chargers: “We were all coached that way. To play up to the echo of the whistle. . . . A questionable call is only questionable because it’s close. So I mean if Patrick Mahomes — if the motto in the defensive meeting room for the 49ers is, ‘Look, we’re not gonna have many chances because he’s a magician. But when you have a clean shot at him, take it and let him remember.’ . . . Even if this is like near the sideline, nothing [Florio] said was necessarily illegal, but could be conceived as illegal or perceived as illegal by an official on the field.”
As the segment continued to unfold, something subtle but undeniable occurred. The more they discussed the issue, the more candid the former players became. Eventually, Wiley dropped the facade entirely.
“He’s taking advantage of the rules that are trying to protect him,” Wiley said regarding Mahomes’ decisions to run the football. “Last three games, he’s run 22 times, leaning into his inner Lamar Jackson. Because he knows that, out there, it’s not hell to pay like it was yesterday. But these coaches are now saying, ‘Look, there still is a risk-reward relationship.’ And let’s be real, as much as I was a part of the fraternity and brotherhood, if I could knock Tom Brady out and see him next time, that’s what I wanted to do.”
Arrington tried to dial it back to the original point, saying, “It’s not even about knocking him out.”
“But I want to,” Wiley insisted. “Oh, I want to. . . . You don’t want to knock Patrick Mahomes out?”
“It’s about getting the hit and sending the message,” Arrington said.
“No, no, no,” Wiley said. “I want to knock him out.”
Added Ohrnberger, “If you’re playing against him you do.”
Exclaimed Wiley, “If you’re playing against him, yes. In the Super Bowl, yes you do!”
My point was and is that it’s not, and shouldn’t be, about knocking Mahomes out. It was, and is, about treating a quarterback like a running back when he becomes a running back, without freaking out in fringes of the gray areas and pulling up and pulling back and watching the quarterback who is now a running back run right by the defender who is afraid to hit the quarterback near the sideline or is afraid to commence a move toward a running target who possibly begins to slide just before an impact that quickly becomes unavoidable. And that if/when a quarterback who becomes a running back gets hit like a running back, maybe the quarterback won’t run it the next time he’s tempted to do so.
My original goal was to provide real, authentic, and candid analysis of how the game is played, based on everything I’ve seen and heard in 20 years of studying the game and talking to those who play and coach it. What may have been conceived as an effort by someone at FS1 to take issue with my take ended, thanks to the fundamental honesty and fair-mindedness of the three former players at the table, in a way that was far more real, authentic, and candid about how the game is played.